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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

We did not send you to public office to do business with our state

First published Saturday Standard, June 23, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Life-style audits and integrity testing are all the rage again. Politicians are discussing it, Kenyans on twitter are discussing it and I hope our law enforcement agencies are acting on it. The debates reveal the very best and worst of our moral economy.

Lifestyle auditing was relevant when Jacob tricked Esau out of his birth-right in the bible. It was needed when the colonial fraudsters swindled East African chiefs under the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) back in the 1890s. We needed it when the Ndegwa Commission obliterated the notion of public servants engaging in business as a conflict of interest. We needed it when Jubilee promised it and then abandoned in 2013. We really needed it in 2015, when I and civic leaders demonstrated the control that vendors wielded over our very budget and the profound flows in our procurement systems.

Instead, we have built and polished a state and public culture that thrives on secrecy, private wealth accumulation and a lack of care. The Official Secrets Act led us to the absurdity of even marking national newspapers in Government offices as “Highly Confidential” despite the fact that they were the same ones everyone else was buying and reading on the streets. Wealth declarations by state officers seeking office in 2013 were likewise kept secret when the evidence of their wealth accumulation was glaring for all to see.

Thousands of Kenyans tweeting photos and figures of properties allegedly owned by elected and appointed state officials under the hashtag #Weknowyoursalary was #KOT at it’s finest. Comedian Jamymo ule Mzee also weighed in. He asked us to be suspicious of those who were travelling in matatus, ordering Blue Moon vodka and half kilo nyama yesterday and are now Ubering everywhere and ordering Hennessy brandy and five kilos of chicken. The broader point has been made. Life-style auditing is both an exercise for the public and our law enforcement agencies. Any intelligent taxi-driver, security guard, travel agent, bank-teller or estate agent without a twitter account can tell you who owns large chunks of our country.

The net worth, sources and uses of their monies and properties, income tax returns and bank deposits lies at the heart of solid life-style auditing and assessing hidden incomes of individuals, families and close friends and partners. Speed is, of the essence. Hidden assets are transferrable and there are a few countries that still accept corruption proceeds. Other countries like USA, Canada and South Africa are perfecting systems of catching those we can call Thieves In State. We can learn from them.

We are at a critical moment in the fight against corruption. Public naming and shaming must be accompanied by an anti-theft and anti-fraud strategy that operates within criminal procedures. Rushed, unfocussed or intrusive investigations that are not guided by our laws will squander this moment and imperil the nation. Search warrants, court orders, records and witness protection are crucial elements in criminal procedures and must be used creatively now.

For the rest of us, we must also challenge our comfort in holding situational ethics. Too many of us still argue that leadership integrity is not for our offices and homes, it is only for those in Government. We can steal a little as long as we get the job done or we are not likely to get caught. We will not win the war against corruption until we have more people seeking to study leadership integrity testing and not how to circumvent public procurement ethics and procedures.

We must have this conversation with our children also. My youngest child recently turned 18. Six months ago, he tried to justify going to an adult night-club saying, “there is an 3% chance of being caught by the karoo”. His interest ended abruptly when I argued that even if it was slim, if caught, there was an 100% chance that he would sleep the night in Parklands Police Station. My duty as his parent is to keep the bar of 100% integrity as a standard for his life. It is his duty as a citizen to maintain it for our country.

We have to share with each other the inspiring stories of Thomas Sankara and other leaders who led with the belief that simple lifestyles is not poverty. We must also demand of our appointed and elected leaders to live within their salaries or step down. We did not send you to public office to do business with our state.

Six months after this article, the state seized assets while one the biggest corruption cases was underway.


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